News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 6, 2022
Blazing an educational trail
School nature trail—as good as a cheese dog?

by Leslie Landrigan

The winter chill had set in by December 13, but that didn’t stop Mickie Flores’ science class from taking a stroll along the just-completed nature trail that day.

For Charlotte Davis, the final section of the trail meant that she could get onto it from the sidewalk using her wheelchair.

“What do you think of it?” asked Flores.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said.

“The first time, you said it was ‘yummy,’” Flores said.

The nature trail seems to inspire such colorful descriptions. “The air, when you go on the nature trail, it smells like a cheese dog,” said Brayden Larrabee.

“It’s refreshing,” explained Kamdyn Williams.

Last year, Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School custodians spent 20 minutes every day cleaning the classrooms because of the pandemic. The children went outside. “Every kid walked the nature trail every day,” Flores said. “The kids loved it, and the teachers loved it. We want to keep it in our lives.”

Building the boardwalk

Many, many people were involved in clearing the trail and building the 0.3-mile boardwalk that winds from a gate near the elementary school through woods and swamp. It ends with a 0.1-mile section that’s wheelchair accessible.

Many grants and agencies funded the nature trail, founded by Island Heritage Trust and the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School.

But a lion’s share of the credit goes to Flores, along with carpenter Josh Worthington and Martha Bell, Island Heritage Trust’s environmental educator.

It started 15 years ago as a tiny path, but languished until Flores started finding grants to pay for a boardwalk. Five years ago, work began clearing the trail, building outdoor classrooms, creating a bird feeding station and putting up a kiosk to display students’ work.

Worthington built most of the boardwalk, section by section, completing the final ramp to the curb in early December. He also made an arch from branches. Fifth grader Sophia Allen said that she likes the pretty lights on it.

“They love the arch,” said Flores. “They say we should have weddings there.”

Direct observation

Since the pandemic began, Flores and other DISES staff began thinking of ways to educate kids differently.

“I’ve done lots of lesson plans about what’s out there,” Flores said. “Every grade has units around the nature trail.”

Kindergartners take “Life Cycles Same and Different,” while seventh graders take “Chemistry of Nature.”

Teachers say it helps children to learn from direct observation. Flores said they notice what’s changed—whether the ferns have grown tall, or if the marsh has iced over.

“I had 11-year-old kids completely silent for three minutes watching the bird feeders with their clipboards,” Flores said. They had a theory that more birds came to the feeders on cloudy days than on sunny. “They were right,” she said.

In the fall of 2021, students compiled photos of the nature trail into a calendar, which they’re selling.

In January, with Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, the students will make 3-D signs in Braille, Flores said. “The high school is going make soundboxes, so you can hear a chickadee, a pileated woodpecker, a red squirrel,” she said.

Each of Flores’ fifth graders takes something different from the nature trail. For Hunter Ciomei, “there are lots of bird feeders and a lot of places for people to hang out and get fresh air.”

Brayden Larrabee likes how it’s for wheelchairs and anyone can use it.

Kenzie Dalton thinks it’s cool to walk through a swamp. She also said it helps to walk the nature trail on a stressful day. “I find it quiet and peaceful,” she said.

IA Nature Trail Cal

DISES students made a calendar featuring photos of the nature trail. You can buy it for $20 at the school to help support outdoor learning.

Photo courtesy of Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School
Fresh air

A walk on the nature trail puts Mickie Flores’ fifth-grade science class in a good mood. Front row: Charlotte Davis, Brayden Larrabee, Kamdyn Williams, Bella Jones, Savanna Trundy, Hunter Ciomei. Back row: David Leaf, Claire Malcolm, Sophia Allen, Kenzie Dalton, Meralei Eaton.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan
Newest addition

Isaiah Heanssler stands by the newest section of the trail that is still being constructed by Josh Worthington. Behind him is a square marked off with string that will be an outdoor classroom in the spring.

Photo courtesy of Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School
No steps

Mickie Flores, left, guides Charlotte Davis along the new wheelchair-accessible section of the nature trail. People using wheelchairs, strollers and canes can access the trail from a ramp to the sidewalk.

Photo by Leslie Landrigan